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Cataract Falls Trail

MODERATE 730 reviews
#1 of 82 trails in

Cataract Falls Trail is a 3.3 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Bolinas, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Distance: 3.3 miles Elevation Gain: 1,082 feet Route Type: Out & Back

dogs on leash

kid friendly

hiking

nature trips

trail running

bird watching

forest

lake

river

waterfall

scramble

Cataract Falls is one of the most popular falls trails in Marin County within the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a great hike with scattered cascading waterfalls along the entirety of the trail. The trailhead is located off of Bolinas Fairfax Road, just past Alpine Lake. The falls are reached by Cataract Trail starting from Bolinas Fairfax Road. The trail follows Cataract Creek north. The trail shortly starts to climb uphill through a shaded forest and crosses the flowing creek several times. You will eventually reach Laurel Dell picnic area. If you continue on the trail past the picnic area, it will start to descend towards the upper falls. At the junction of Helen Markt Trail and Cataract Trail there is a nice pool where you can stop, take a break, and enjoy the great views. Although this is a short hike, it has a decent amount of elevation gain and is a good workout. If you wish to extend your hike, you can also start from the Rock Spring Trailhead. The best time to visit is after rainfall when the waterflow is heavier.

hiking
rocky
5 days ago

It was pretty don’t get me wrong. But i was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t more water and the waterfalls were tiny. Definitely wait and go after it rains a few more times or during winter. After all the pictures and amazing reviews, i just felt that it didn’t live up to the hype. Also, parking is not amazing. I got lucky Bc it was a cloudy day and not many people out. But there’s only room for 15 or so cars on the sides of the road by the trail head.

Would recommend hiking during or right after some rain.

hiking
9 days ago

Y'all: my watch says this 1:45 hike had 1,012' of elevation gain over 4.61 miles. I had an average heart rate of 117BPM, and burned 700 calories. This is to say: I loved it and can't wait to do it again! But it isn't relaxing. So be warned.

hiking
12 days ago

Alpine lake is beautiful on the hike up. Went two days ago, no falls were seen per low water flow. Overall quite and nice hike.

hiking
12 days ago

Super fun light trail! Strenuous going up but lots of fun and nice going back down. Nice spots to sit and picnic on the stream/waterfall. Engaging throughout.

hiking
bugs
rocky
14 days ago

Hiked this trail with my cousin and our 9 yo niece. My niece was able to do this hike with no problem. There were lots of rocky stairs and man it was a workout for me!! We took a lot of mini breaks in between. The streams and mini waterfalls were beautiful. On the way up, we stopped at a couple of benches to sit and there were lots of mosquitos so it was quite uncomfortable to enjoy the views. When we got to the top, there were picnic tables where we sat to eat our sandwiches. The way down took us about an hour. We did not stop at all. I would slide down as I walked so be extra cautious for the steep and narrow areas. P.S. there is a two-stall restroom on the way up and in case you need to use it, BRING soap and/or hand sanitizers!! I would do this trail again to challenge myself to keep going on the way up without taking so many breaks.

hiking
rocky
15 days ago

We were here a few weekends ago. Beautiful trail, plenty of stairs, steep and narrow in some areas. It was a great work out. The whole family enjoyed the hiking, scenery and water fall.

hiking
rocky
22 days ago

hiking
rocky
24 days ago

If you like stairs, you’ll love this hike. It’s all uphill the first half. Lots of stairs and pretty steep. I don’t believe this trail was described correctly. It’s not kid friendly. Much too hard for little legs. We saw 2 families with kids... one child was crying and another was being carried on his dad’s shoulders - she was about 7 yrs old. It’s more moderate to hard. Two of us tracked our hike with our watches; it was 4+ miles total. It’s a beautiful hike though and we will be back. Bring water and food. Picnic tables are near the top.

hiking
1 month ago

Beautiful trail! Lots of shade as well. However, bring bug spray!

hiking
1 month ago

Quite steep and lots of stairs, but it was worth it! Really enjoyed it!

hiking
bugs
1 month ago

what an amazing hike it was!! lots of steps to go up at times but overall it felt easy. Lots of mosquitos at our stops so carry bug spray!! Didnt get to take a dip but its a must! Go prepared(i was not) Trails is very shady but still carry sunscreen. we made it past the picnic are to the other parking lot up there and crossed the road and up a hill for an amazing view of Stinson Beach

hiking
1 month ago

Completed this hike yesterday. It is very beautiful out here! There is limited parking so if you do not want to add to your hike, get there early for the best parking spot. Most of the trail up to the picnic area is shaded so it is a nice trail to be on during a hot day. It is all up hill to the picnic area and all down hill back so expect to stop and rest if you are not used to the incline. the trail is very well maintained so no issues there. The water and mini waterfalls were very nice even for this time of year. Just before the halfway point is the best waterfall and what looks like to be a sweet pool of water. This is the best scenic spot to picnic and rest imo because after that, there is limited water to the picnic area this time of year, so if you want to make a short and sweet hike, this is your turn around point. I would like to do this hike again in the spring and see how different it is when the water flow is at it's best. the great thing about this location is being 30 minutes to Stinson Beach. We drove to the beach and finished our day cooling off in the ocean.

recorded Recording - Jul 07, 04:24 PM

hiking
1 month ago

July 4th sibling hike. cataract falls.

hiking
1 month ago

Personally I like to start this hike at Rock Springs trailhead and hike down and up, but you cannot go wrong anyway you do it. Depending on the time of year the waterfalls can be epic! From Rock Springs the trail is lovely. You hike thru a forest expecting smurfs to pop up and say hello. Its fairy tale like. About 2 mikes in you start down hitting all the waterfalls. Go all the way to the end and hike back, using the back hike to rest and take pics as it is like a long staircase going back up. Usually takes me about 2 1/2-3 hours to complete. A good hike on a rainy day since there is lots of tree coverage it does not get too muddy.

hiking
1 month ago

Really pretty trail with beautiful waterfalls. Not too hard, not too easy. We saw beautiful flowers and swimming holes on our way. No swimming allowed though.

A really gorgeous Marin trail. The path up the valley is a more-difficult-than-moderate staircase at times, but the many falls and pools, shady trees and bridges are a more-than-adequate reward for the effort.

hiking
1 month ago

This hike has made my top 10 list of all hikes in California and even abroad. It's sheer beauty and tranquility is spectacular! The waterfalls and streams, while not heavily flowing, just added to the great feeling of the outdoors. There were a few heavy uphill areas which kept the heart pumping, but well worth the hike. I'll add that there are beautiful spots to spot and make a picnic. One that you'll not soon forget.

hiking
1 month ago

we took trail from dam road, lake level. up creek to water fall. fantastic

hiking
2 months ago

This is an ok hike. Long, slow, windy roads to get here, many people (weekend day), and surprisingly steep. Not a moderate climb at all. There are dozens of hikes that are easier to get to and allow for the same shade, scenery, etc. Not bad, but a one and done for us.

hiking
2 months ago

I give cataract trail 5 stars for its diversity. It’s just one small portion of such a massive amount of hiking area! Oh and it’s beautiful! Lots of small cascades lead down to the main portion of waterfall that is a great photo opportunity and chill spot. You can access just cataract trail if your not a long walker. We started from below at lagunitas and went up coller springs, which is a torturous mile up hill. Great morning warm up and beautiful trail that runs along two creeks. Then upper north ridge, through Potrero meadows, down Benstein trail to cataract trail. From here it’s all downhill. Catch the falls and hit Helen market trail to Kent. For the long way back, take Kent trail to bon Tempe damn. Then you can take sunny side or shady side to get back to lagunitas parking lot. Either way is about the same but all together it captures 3 lakes and cataract falls. 15-20 miles roughly. We started at 9am and had shade all the way until walking by alpine lake. That’s a 5 star hike for us!

hiking
rocky
2 months ago

Great hike. It’s a bit of an incline so get ready for a real stair master. Got to see a lot of wildlife, like an aquatic snake, skink lizard, and a few others. Had a great time :)

hiking
rocky
2 months ago

This is one of my favorite hikes in Marin. There are a lot of stairs so those with sensitive knees beware. It’s beautiful and a great workout! You can extend this hike by heading to Rock Spring from the Laurel Dell picnic area. Cross the road and take the trail up to O’Rourke’s bench. A magical spot with killer views of the ocean.

recorded Cataract Falls Trail

hiking
bugs
rocky
2 months ago

hiking
2 months ago

Short nice hike along the creek. You need to go a little further at the top to see the peak and a few views. It was a foggy day for me so we just watched the fog move past the clouds which was just as beautiful.

hiking
2 months ago

Dog friendly. Kid friendly. One fun hike!

2 months ago

short but nice work out. nice waterfalls along the trail.

hiking
2 months ago

Lots of fun. Kid friendly. Beautiful scenery

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